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Responding to Perceived Threats

How do you most frequently respond to threats?

By Rene PetersPublished 3 months ago 3 min read
Responding to Perceived Threats
Photo by Scott Carroll on Unsplash

The image above will make sense if you read the article, even the beginning.

* * *

Most people have heard of the "fight or flight" response which is cause by the sympathetic nervous system. This is the opposite of the "rest and digest" response caused by the parasympathetic nervous system. What many people don't seem to be aware of is that "fight or flight" has been turned into "fight, flight, freeze, or fawn." I'm going to go slightly in depth about each of these with any resources linked at the bottom.

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Fight is when you believe you can overpower the threat. You may become physically aggressive with urges to try to defeat the threat, whether it is an actual threat or not.

Flight is when your body's desire is to run away from the potential threat. This can be the best course of action if there is a true threat such as a burning building (unless you are the firefighter who was called there, of course).

Freeze is when you just stop. You are not fighting but you are not fleeing either. The best comparison I know of is "a deer caught in headlights."

Fawn is when you try to please the person or thing causing the potential threat. This is common in people who grew up in abusive families, according to Simply Psychology.

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Some signs of fight include tightening jaw, urges to punch someone or something, feeling intense anger, crying, upset stomach, and attacking the source of danger.

Some signs of flight include excessive exercising, feeling tense or trapped, restlessness, darting eyes, and a sensation of numbness in the extremities.

Some signs of freeze include pale skin, sense of dread, feeling numb, decreased heart rate, and loud pounding heart.

Fawn is used after fight, flight, and freeze have been unsuccessful. The main sign of it is that you care more about making the other person happy than yourself. (I assume this has to do with being fearful of what the other person might do if they become angry or unhappy. I'm not positive about that though.)

* * *

I had an incident at work where someone was seriously injured, possibly even killed. My response was to freeze. I was panicking so much that I didn't even get to the break room. I stood there in shock, I was horrified that if I helped, something would happen to me.

Two days after that incident, I had a meeting with my therapist. I ended up talking to him about it. It went something like this...

"After you found out about that, how did you feel?"

"I was scared. You know the fight, flight, or freeze response? I froze. I couldn't move or speak."

"What happened after? You said you were scheduled the day after. What did you do?"

"I went to work."

"So, it sounds like they fight response kicked in too. You were scared but went in anyways."

"Yeah, I guess so. I don't want anxiety to rule my life so I fight that battle on a daily basis. It is really, really hard but I work my ass off to fight that battle."

That conversation with him made me realize that I use way more fight than I use flight or freeze. I did not think that my battle with anxiety is a fight response on a daily basis. Learning that about myself was extremely surprising and interesting to learn about as a chronically anxious person.

* * *

How do you most often respond to situations? I'm genuinely curious.


copingCONTENT WARNINGanxiety

About the Creator

Rene Peters

I write what I know, usually in the form of poetry. I tend to lean towards mental health, epilepsy, and loss/grieving.

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Comments (4)

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  • Toby Heward3 months ago

    I would go with flight or fight but hope neither happens.

  • I've only ever heard about fight, flight and freeze, but not fawn. Not only I learned what is fawn in this aspect but thanks to you, I also learned that I'm fawn. As a trauma response, I'm a pathological people pleaser. So whenever I'm faced with a threat, I always try to please them because I'm so afraid of what would happen if they're angry or upset. Like I would do everything I can to make them happy, even if it makes me sad. I know that's not good but I'm working on it. Flight and freeze ain't my thing, like it very seldom occurs. Fight is my thing but not in a good way. I have anger issues, so yea 🤣🤣🤣 I'm so glad you learned that you use fight in your daily life, like even I wouldn't have thought of that. So glad your therapist was able to see this. Your article was very educational, well written and eye opening!

  • Shirley Belk3 months ago

    This was very interesting. Although aware of "freezing" and "fawning," I'm glad that they are now being incorporated. Understanding our responses is something we should all become aware of. My go to response is usually fight...or at least jump into action of some sorts, but I have experienced freezing....that's sort of an initial shock response. I think being a nurse, I have trained myself to be objective rather than subjective in situations. That helps. (But my kids & grandkids can still get on my last nerve at times.) lol

  • Mother Combs3 months ago

    I'm a combo of flight and fight mostly. I want to get away and if you don't let me I'll get mean

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